Last week, I posted a piece about the new Adobe Photoshop 2021 Sky Replacement tool. The blog piece was posted here and on social media. In that piece, I shared my enthusiasm for the new feature added to Photoshop that allowed you to change the sky in your image.
Here’s one of the images I used. I thought the new sky really finished this off.
What I found out next was that there were people out there who not only didn’t share my enthusiasm for this new feature but had very strong negative feelings about it. The term “Fake” was used repeatedly.
This caught me off guard and surprised.
First, off guard because I thought this feature to Photoshop would be seen as a cool new thing and surprised because I didn’t realize anyone actually read these things that I write.
Then I thought initially the anger was because we’ve all been cooped up in our homes quarantining for the last 7 months and the general tension levels are high. The more I thought on it though, the more I felt the need to speak out.
Please understand, I am not trying to defend myself; like me, my work, or don’t, that’s your choice and has nothing to do with me.
What bothers me is this reeks of artistic censorship.
Now if someone presents themself as Photojournalist or a Documentary Photographer, then they should be capturing renderings of reality, hopefully with an artistic angle. For them to seriously alter an image is cheating and in my opinion, should not be allowed. If you tell me you are capturing reality, it needs to be real. We’ve all seen instances in the past few years where images used for journalism had been altered in an attempt to sway public opinion in a particular direction. I think that’s reprehensible.
If you are an artist, the world is your canvas. When in a discussion, I always tell people I am a digital artist; not because I’m not trying to sound cool, but because the term seems more removed from the reality of a “Photographer”
So, now let’s discuss “Fake Art”
Here’s that image again with the replaced sky.
If I didn’t tell you I replaced the sky, would you know? If you like this image, should you like it less because that sky wasn’t there when I pressed the shutter button?
How about this one?
Did I replace the sky? Were those trees really there? Was it two trees originally, or did I duplicate the one? Should you not like it until you know?
How about this one?
I made this in one of my favorite places, Isla Mujeres.
Were those clouds really there when I took this? Does it make a difference?
No, It should not.
Oh, and for the record, the last two images had no replaced sky or duplicated trees. I did channel swap the IR image though, hmm maybe that’s bad.
This is ART! Like it or don’t, it’s still ART.
I see images every day that I don’t really appreciate or think is that well done, but I will defend that artist’s right to create it.
SO, if you don’t want to use something like Sky replacement . . . . DON’T!
But don’t run down someone else who does. Your negative words can hurt people.
I just remembered an old joke we used to tell as kids that fits.
“What do you call a guy hanging on a wall . . . Art! (hea, hea)”
“What do you call a guy hanging upside down on a wall?
. . . No matter how you look at him, it’s still Art”
If a guy tries to sell you the Mona Lise out of his trunk, now that’s fake art.
Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? Leave a comment, but keep it clean.
I think it is “cheating” if you use a sky that someone else photographed. You are taking credit for someone else’s work. If you photographed the sky yourself and do not lie about the image being from only one photographic frame, it’s not dishonest in my opinion.
When I was a fine arts major in college, the philosophical debate was (and remains) whether photography was fine art at all. Any of it.
My opinion is that photography is more craft than art. There are obviously artistic elements, concepts, and techniques involved in creating a photograph, but the end result is not fine art. Photography lacks the physical skill that every other fine art requires: the hand of the painter or sculptor, the voice of the singer, the feet of the dancer, etc.
My opinion is never well received by photographers, many of whom fancy themselves “artistes”. They think it somehow diminishes or cheapens what they do and it bruises their egos.
As a nature photographer, I hate the sky replacement. It’s lazy. I have to hike to that place, lugging all my gear, over and over, for days, weeks, or months to catch that scene with a dramatic sky. You can just sit on your a## and press a few buttons. I try to follow National Geographic’s editorial standard of not adding or removing anything from the image.
As the owner of a commercial photography studio and stock service. I love sky replacement. It saves time and helps my commercial work compete in the marketplace, and that puts money in my pocket.
Appreciate your comments Bill, and I don’t disagree.
Dave Chambers says
With respect, I do disagree, John. I like the Sky Replacement addition to Photoshop and I do consider myself an artist. However, I would agree that using someone else’s sky in my photograph and claiming it as my own is misleading at best. I have a rich assemblage of skies that I have taken with a wide variety of cloud formations. If I captured the sky myself and add it to another of my images to create something unique, beautiful and original, I can’t see how one can call that fake. I call it art. I put hours and hours of work into a completed image, leading the viewers eye where it will reveal the most beauty. This is a craft? Come on. This came from hard work and talent that I have spent years honing, not cheating or faking. It’s all my work and creation (with some help from the Almighty). The new Sky Replacement tool just saves me a little time. “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” an image created by Ansel Adams, is a work of art, not an arts and crafts project. It is art…which, by the way, is worth about $25 million. Give it some more thought, John.
It’s not an either/or – there’s a place in the world for both digital art photography, and classic in camera documentary photography.
I do think both should be labelled appropriately, so the view knows what they are looking at. And I think it makes that amazing image that was created totally in camera even more amazing.
A painter at his purist takes tools and materials that he uses to approximate reality to his liking. At some level, even the most photo-accurate style painting will still be an interpretation.
A photographer however, uses a tool that is directly meant to capture reality at a few moments of time. Yes, we have tools (filters, etc) that let us specify how we capture that moment.
I don’t mind calling a heavily modified photo as you did as “digital art”, because that’s in essence what it is. However, I would not call it a photograph anymore, and at some level, if we’re passing ourselves off as photographers, we should be honest to that.
We’ve all been there where we had a wonderful foreground, and absolutely crap sky for it. And yes, I know the temptation to salvage that picture is up there, but at the end of the day, if I get bad weather, that’s the luck we as photographers get. We should make do with what we have, and if we are actually good at what we do, we find a way to make it work.
Furthermore, it’s that very honesty that will be in question even moreso now. We all know that there is now going to be a market for dramatic pure sky template images that people (who didn’t even take the original) photo will use to enhance their images, or at worst, begin completely fabricating “real” landscape shots with them.
If I go to Delicate Arch in Arches and take a daytime shot of it, and then find someone’s milky way sky and then use that as a background replacement, am I being true to our trade? To the scene and the image? Or am I just cheating?
I remember an example during the last US solar eclipse (I think), where someone posted a photo of the Grand Tetons with the solar eclipse in the background. It got tons of likes and shares all across social media. The only catch though, was that there was no possible way that the eclipse was in that location at that point and time. Did it end up being a dramatic gorgeous image? Yes. Is it real? No. And at some point, by the very definition of our medium and our tools, we owe it to ourselves to be as true to reality as we can, which is a lot more than other mediums.
Dan Wampler says
I appreciate you expressing your insights and sharing your interpretation of what the art form of photography means to you. Luckily for me, that is not my interpretation. If it were, I would never shoot anything in Infrared, because IR light cannot be perceived by the human eye and therefore is not “reality”. I do not claim my finished work is a reality, in fact, if all I could do is capture reality I would sit my camera down and never pick it up again. I am using the camera to help me create an idea of a thought or emotion and express it the way my mind sees it. I see it as the difference between “documentation” and “art”. As an artist, I see it as being my job not to just copy the world, but to shape images into my version of it. My interpretation gives me the freedom to go in whatever direction I choose. To me, your definition would death to my soul as an artist. But, that’s the great thing about art, we can both do our own things and we are both right as long as we do what’s right for each of us as an artist.
I was reading an article about composition written by a painter. He was talking about balance when he said did a painting of an old house in the country side and he felt it was not balanced. So he added a guest house on the hill to make it balanced. He is creating art. In photography, why would changing a sky be any different than the painter adding a guest house? In my mind, there is no difference. Either you change nothing, or you can change everything. I think art is more skill if it is not a copy of exactly as it was. The art is in the interpretation of what they see. Only if it doesn’t look real, maybe you went too far.
David Alexander says
I have somewhat mixed feelings on the process. Some purists think that it doesn’t count if it isn’t “real”. Personally I went to Iceland for a week, the sun was out for a total of about 4 hours, so the sky was always grey. It would be nice if could visit there for 6 months, then I’m sure I would get the shots that I dreamed of. I might be tempted then.
To me it’s not what you do to the image, it’s how it turns out. I just don’t like it when the sky looks like the result of a thermonuclear blast. Just like with food, you can ruin a lot of things if they get overcooked.
I found the article very helpful. I dont understand why people are using photoshop for every possible use (erasing parts unwanted, cloning things, altering colors) and then are obsessed with the original sky which all we know sometimes is a real failure.
I’m interested in trying this; I have a number of photos I’ve taken over the years with boring, uninteresting skies, because I blew out the highlights or there weren’t any clouds.
Creating an emotional response with a piece of digital art by swapping in a more dramatic sky seems is totally within bounds.